Having returned four starters, including point guard Mike Wells, Delaware Hayes High School boys basketball coach Jordan Blackburn expects his team to contend for league and district titles this winter.
Last season, the Pacers finished 10-11 overall and went 7-7 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie Big Walnut for fourth, behind co-champions Mount Vernon (11-3) and Olentangy Orange (11-3) as well as New Albany (10-4). Rounding out the league standings were Hilliard Bradley (6-8), Franklin Heights (3-11) and Watkins Memorial (1-13).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy, which had been in the OCC-Cardinal.
Delaware lost to Olentangy 53-40 in the first round of the Division I district tournament last season.
Wells, a 5-foot-8 senior, averaged 25.1 points and 5.1 assists last season and was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year and first-team all-district.
Delaware opened Nov. 30 with a 78-63 win over Marysville and beat Marion-Franklin 66-53 on Dec. 1 in the Clark Kellogg Tipoff Classic at Pickerington Central. The Pacers were 2-0 before playing Watkins Memorial in their OCC-Capital opener Dec. 7.
"Mike will benefit from having several improved teammates," said Blackburn, who is in his fourth season leading the program. "Last year he was forced to shoot more than he wanted to because that was the best way for us to compete (after injuries to other players). His favorite thing to do is set teammates up for buckets and that will happen quite a bit. He is a Division I college recruit."
The other returning starters are 6-8 senior wing player Griffin Kinney and sophomore guards Khalil Iverson (6-4) and Noble Moore (6-3).
"We use Griffin on the wing and down low, depending on the situation and opponent," Blackburn said. "He has a really nice inside-outside game and has taken his game to the next level. He's a winner and we need his rebounding and defense."
Kinney is being recruited by Division I and Division II colleges, Blackburn said.
Against Marysville, Wells had 37 points, going 10-for-16 from the field and 17-for-20 from the foul line. Kinney had nine points and Moore and 6-6 junior forward Alex Stevens both scored eight.
Wells also led the way against Marion-Franklin, finishing with 29 points. Kinney had 16 points and Moore and Iverson scored nine and eight points, respectively.
Last season, Iverson made honorable mention all-league and was the only sophomore or freshman in the OCC-Capital to earn league honors.
"Khalil Iverson has made huge strides," Blackburn said. "His toughness, defense and outside shot have all improved markedly and he is starting to play with a chip. He has matured quite a bit and he knows our coaches expect a lot out of him. He's a freak athlete, one of our strongest and fastest, and he is only 15."
Rounding out the roster are senior Joe Robinson (6-2, forward), juniors Jamieson Lahman (6-1, forward), Gaige Linville (6-1, forward), Thoeun Sorn (5-9, guard), Tyler Treese (6-3, guard), Rommell Toran (5-7, guard) and Jante Wright (6-0, guard).
"I think it will help that we have depth for the first time since 2004," said Blackburn, who plans to use 11 or 12 players regularly. "Typically, we have one or two (standouts) and then everyone else is mediocre. Having guys who are very close in talent makes practices competitive. Playing time will be difficult to earn on this team."
Girls bowling team takes aim at state
The girls bowling team lost just one starter from last season, when it finished eighth (3,129) in the 18-team district tournament at HP Lanes.
Westerville Central (3,603) won the district title and advanced to state along with Cardington (3,585) and Gahanna (3,415).
"We've got four starters and five girls who were on a district-qualifying team, so our goal is to make it to state," second-year coach Darrin Halstead said. "All five girls should have similar averages, and if we meet the team average, we should perform well."
Expected to lead the Pacers are juniors Kayla Bowmar, Katie Fleming and Anna Williams. Sophomores Kaity Crowe and Tayler Schurr round out the starting lineup.
At district last season, Fleming led the way with a 477 to place 31st of 92 competitors, followed by 2012 graduate Ashleigh Keller (476, tied for 32nd), Williams (459, tied for 39th), Bowmar (446, tied for 46th) and Schurr (397, tied for 64th). Westerville South's Jessica Shambaugh secured the third and final individual state-qualifying berth with a 562.
Delaware, which finished 10-5 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Cardinal last season, advanced to district by placing fourth (3,115) in the sectional behind Westerville Central (3,551), Cardington (3,503) and Mount Gilead (3,134). The top nine teams advanced to district.
"These girls don't get too excited about the crowds of people or noises or many of the other distractions that occur during match and tournament play," Halstead said. "Our focus will be to quickly learn the lane conditions and to make quick adjustments, understanding what they need to do to make these adjustments."
The boys team returned two players from its starting lineup last season, when it finished seventh (3,685) in the 18-team district tournament.
Jonathan Alder (3,962) won the district title and advanced to state along with Westerville North (3,884) and Whitehall (3,769).
The returnees are senior Alex Hohe, who had a 558 at district to tie for 22nd of 127 competitors, and sophomore Jordan Lanham, who rolled a 516 to tie for 54th.
"Losing so many varsity players last year, this year the goal is to make it out of sectional," Halstead said. "Alex Hohe has the capability to have a good season. Jordan Lanham is also a strong bowler and should be very competitive. It will be their leadership that is needed to help sculpt the younger and new bowlers into a competitive team."
The rest of the starting lineup is comprised of senior Nick Pierce and freshmen Dakota Brugler and Noah Bowmar.
Last season, the Pacers finished 9-6 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Cardinal and qualified for district by finishing third (3,950) in the 24-team sectional at Columbus Western Bowl behind Jonathan Alder (4,020) and Newark (3,952).
"The boys need to stay focused on the game and not on what the other teams are doing and their scores," Halstead said. "The returning starters need to pull the younger bowlers into the team aspect of the sport and help them quickly adjust to all the excitement of tournament play."